Happy Hockey Day Minnesota 2018! One of my favorite days of the year where people all across Minnesota celebrate their connection to our state’s proud hockey heritage. This year the festivities are located near Lake George in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I’ve been by there many times as a kid who regularly traveled up to St. Cloud to hit up the House of Pizza and the occasional St. Cloud State hockey game. Throughout the state, there will be many local hockey associations hosting special events to recognize what has become a pretty awesome annual event.
I remember when Hockey Day Minnesota came to my hometown of Elk River, Minnesota in 2014. The setting, the cold and being outdoors brought all those memories of playing pick up hockey and time spent drinking cocoa in the warming house come back. The Wild finish off what will have already been a fantastic celebration of hockey with a game against one of the best teams in the league; the Tampa Bay Lightning. Can the Wild come out of its 5-game furlough with a win over the Lightning?
1st Period Thoughts: The Lightning are not normally known as a real physical squad but the 1st period had a lot of intensity and a surprising amount of physicality. Minnesota did not look rusty at all after the 5-day furlough and were doing a pretty good job of matching the Lightning’s speed. Perhaps the back and forth end-to-end action set up the environment for some big hits as Ryan Callahan caught Tyler Ennis admiring his own drop pass making him an easy target for an open ice check that put him on his back. Nate Prosser was not pleased with the hit and he’d go after Callahan who immediately went into a fetal position hoping to avoid getting into a fight as Jake Dotchin tried to pull Prosser off his teammate. Eventually the officials would move in and break up the scrum. Prosser would get a double minor for roughing while Dotchin got a single minor for roughing giving Tampa Bay a power play much to the ire of the Wild bench. Minnesota’s penalty kill did a great job of denying any kind of time and space to for the Lightning power play and they were able to kill it off without much of anything reaching Devan Dubnyk. Part of the reason the Wild were able to hold the potent Lightning power play at bey was a few big shot blocks by Jonas Brodin. Minnesota tried to catch the Lightning overcommitting as Jason Zucker got a step on a defender and he’d skate in on a partial breakaway but was unable to lift the puck over the outstretched leg of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Minnesota kept applying pressure and they’d draw their first power play as Zach Parise was held up by Andrej Sustr. The Wild would not waste any time on the power play as right off the initial faceoff, Jared Spurgeon would step into a slap shot on a rolling puck that blew by Vasilevskiy to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Minnesota kept being physical through the neutral zone and looking to transition quickly. The Wild would add to its lead a few minutes later as Parise carried the puck beneath the faceoff dots of the Tampa Bay zone drawing the defense back opening up the high slot and Ryan Suter would let go a wrist shot that beat Vasilevskiy. 2-0 Wild, but the goal would be reviewed for goaltender interference as it appeared Parise hit the glove of Vasilevskiy (while attempting to deflect it) just before it flew by him. Ultimately the officials didn’t think what Parise did was goaltender interference and not only called it a good goal but Parise would get credit for it. Minnesota had to feel pretty good leading 2-0 against the the best team in the league, but no doubt Tampa Bay will look to push back big time in the 2nd.
2nd Period Thoughts: The positive momentum of the 1st period continued through the 2nd as Minnesota continued to hustle well and deprive Tampa Bay of time and space to make plays. Daniel Winnik would get tagged with a high sticking call just 41 seconds in. On the penalty kill the Wild did a great job of using active sticks to frustrate the Lightning power play. Minnesota would get another big kill and their hard work would pay off with a goal. It was the 3rd line as Kyle Rau and Joel Eriksson Ek would out work the Lightning for a loose puck and it was Eriksson Ek feeding a pass back to a pinching Nate Prosser who managed to sneak a shot through Vasilevskiy. 3-0 Wild. Minnesota was moving the puck efficiently to break out of their own end and the Wild would start to pin Tampa Bay in its own end. The puck pressure continued to force turnovers and the Lightning had to continue to settle for shots from the perimeter. You could see it in the body language of the Lightning that they were tiring of having to battle and scrap for every loose puck and Minnesota clearly was the more motivated club at this point. Brayden Point would make a quick little move into the high slot and he’d fire a shot that just caught Dubnyk underneath the arm and in. 3-1 Wild. The goal seemed to re-energize the Lightning and suddenly the Wild’s defense didn’t seem quite so in control. The Wild will have to be careful not to ease up their puck pressure against an explosive Tampa Bay offense.
3rd Period Thoughts: The Wild would again pester the Lightning with great puck pressure and they’d cash in again as Ennis worked a puck over to Matt Cullen who made a nice little pass into the slot where Marcus Foligno was waiting all alone to let go a one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy. 4-1 Wild. A few minutes later tempers would flare as Gustav Olofsson would cross check a Tampa forward which caused a scrum in the Wild zone. Mathew Dumba tried to get involved and he took a bit of a swat at Callahan and the result was a 5-on-3 power play for the Lightning as no Tampa players were implicated in the scrum. With more open ice to work with, the Lightning moved the puck with lethal efficiency but Dubnyk was sharp, making a number of great saves as the Wild seemed to be in a zone on the penalty kill. Yet as they seemed to about to get the huge kill, the Wild let up a little bit and it was Point firing a shot from the slot that beat Dubnyk. Dubnyk seemed to think he was interfered with by Callahan so Minnesota challenged the goal, but the replay would prove otherwise that the Wild goaltender wasn’t touched at all and thus it would stand. 4-2 Wild. Fortunately the Wild regained their focus and Minnesota would try to go back on the attack and force the Lightning to spend valuable time defending in its own zone. Zucker was particularly pesky; using his speed to create a series of partial breakaways. Minnesota would seal the deal as Zucker scored an empty-net goal on a flip pass from the Wild zone. 5-2 Wild victory.
Devan Dubnyk was pretty good, making 21 saves in the victory. Yet I have a few criticisms I want to levy towards the Wild’s undisputed starting goaltender. I do not like his penchant for trying to play the puck when he gets bored because his sojourns from the crease often result in gaffes and tonight he’s probably lucky he didn’t hurt himself when he fell awkwardly behind his goal. He’s equally lucky that mistake didn’t result in a goal that would’ve made it a 1-shot game. Minnesota owes a steak dinner to all of his defenseman who did a pretty good job of forcing the Lightning to the perimeter most of the game and only allowing 23 shots on goal this evening. The penalty kill did give up a goal, but it was 5-on-3 power play goal to one of the best power plays in the league.
Offensively the Wild got contributions by activating its defense and keeping it simple offensively and funneling pucks on goal. Minnesota peppered Vasilevskiy for 34 shots on goal and never let him feel comfortable by working their way in close consistently all game long. The Wild had to like how the team managed to create offense from all 4 of its lines and they will need that in what will likely be another tough 2nd half of the season.
Matt Cullen reached a milestone with his 700th point on his assist of Marcus Foligno’s goal. Stick tap to him on his longevity and productivity. I will never forget when Cullen and his Spuds ripped my heart out during the Section 7AA playoffs back in 1995 and in way that’s the full circle moment. Hockey Day Minnesota continues to be a success because hockey fans, players, parents really love their game and they identify with it. The Wild are a part of that identity and hopefully this win is a sign of things to come. The team was coming off a 5-day furlough, but they exited the break looking surprisingly sharp and recharged. Happy Hockey Day everyone!
~ The Wild roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Tyler Ennis, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Kyle Rau, Daniel Winnik, Matt Cullen, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Gustav Olofsson and Nate Prosser. Alex Stalock backed up Devan Dubnyk. Mike Reilly and Chris Stewart were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game were: 1st Star Nate Prosser, 2nd Star Matt Cullen, 3rd Star Joel Eriksson Ek
~ Attendance was 19,007 at Xcel Energy Center.
~ Kyle Rau wore #37 for the Wild joining Wes Walz and Josh Harding having worn the number in team history.
Iowa Wild Report:
Record: (19-13-7-3) 48pts 2nd in the AHL West
20.5% Power Play (4th in the AHL)
85.9% Penalty Kill (5th in the AHL)
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #9 Cal O’Reilly ~ 8G 27A = 35pts
2. #7 Sam Anas ~ 15G 18A = 33pts
3. #25 Justin Kloos ~ 12G 18A = 30pts
4. #12 Pat Cannone ~ 11G 17A = 28pts
5. #2 Alex Grant ~ 8G 12A = 20pts
Top 3 PIM’s:
1. #3 Nick Seeler ~ 60 PIM’s
2. #2 Alex Grant ~ 45 PIM’s
3. #44 Christoph Bertschy ~ 40 PIM’s
1. #34 Steve Michalek (9-3-4) 2.78GAA .915%SP
2. #35 Niklas Svedberg (9-8-3) 2.75GAA .911%SP 1SO
Telling reporters about his team’s depth, Iowa Wild Head Coach Derek Lalonde has to feel pretty good about his club’s play this season. With many of the team’s better prospects still seasoning in the college and junior ranks, the team brought in a variety of still young-ish free agents to fill out the Iowa roster to try to get the club over the hump and into the AHL playoffs for the first time. After kind of a slow start, Iowa has started to pick up momentum through December and into January. The collection of free agents like minor league journeyman like Cal O’Reilly, Kyle Rau, Pat Cannone and Landon Ferraro as well as undrafted college players like Gerald Mayhew, Justin Kloos and Sam Anas are really starting to carry the team offensively. The team has gone from one that had an abundance of grit to being smaller, faster and more skilled. (knock on wood) The team has never seen such balance offensively since the Minnesota Wild relocated its AHL affiliate to Des Moines in the 2013-14 season. Christoph Bertschy and Mario Lucia continue to be good soldiers and the team’s lineup has skill on all 4 lines. The healthy, confident environment has been a positive to Luke Kunin‘s development.
Defensively the team has also witnessed some upgrades again because of a lack of prospects to fill out the club’s roster on a nightly basis. Ryan Murphy and Alex Grant lead the way with Zach Palmquist providing solid two-way play, while youngsters Brennan Menell and Carson Soucy learn the ropes. Eden Prairie, MN-natives Nick Seeler and Hunter Warner provide plenty of sandpaper on the back end.
Between the pipes, the Wild are also fairly stable with Niklas Svedberg and Steve Michalek splitting time. The solid play gives Minnesota the confidence to know there could be help from the farm if they need it. Toss in a possible chance at the AHL playoffs to get some extended development time for its young players and the future looks bright in Iowa.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Braydyn Chizen (Kelowna, WHL) ~ the big defenseman chipped in an assist in Kelowna’s 4-3 overtime win over Lethbridge on Wednesday. Chizen has 4 goals, 11 points, 36 PIM’s and is a -5 in 34 games.
RW – Dmitry Sokolov (Barrie, OHL) ~ the skilled sniper has enjoyed the change of scenery as he contributed two assists (5 shots on goal) in the Colts’ 5-2 loss. The Russian-born winger added two goals and and 2 assists on Saturday as Barrie dominated Niagara 6-2. Sokolov has 26 goals, 50 points, 8 PIM’s and is a -9 in 41 games.
C – Jordan Greenway (Boston U., H-East) ~ the rugged power forward is centering the Terriers’ top line as he had an assist in Boston’s 4-3 win over Merrimack last night. He then had another two helpers in Boston’s 3-1 sweep of Merrimack. 2Greenway has 8 goals, 21 points, 34 PIM’s and is a +4 in 24 games.